Brands such as Contenders, National Treasures Topps Chrome, SP Authentic, and Exquisite are perennial choices for a "must have" rookie autograph.
From an investment perspective, Contenders is a product that tends to give the highest multiplier for players whose cards suddenly explode in value.
For example, Colin Kaepernick Contenders were readily available for $10-$15 when he was the backup QB. They are consistently selling at $150 a piece. Comparatively, his Gold Standard RC Auto 3-Color Patch /525 was originally selling in a higher price rang and now sells under $100.
The tenant of sticking to major brands only works if you buy the corresponding parallels when looking for a rarer or premium card.
Demonstrating this, a Matthew Stafford 2009 National Treasures Colossal Auto 3-Color Patch /10 sold for just over $200 when his base rookie Auto 3-Color Patch /99 consistently sells over that amount (even with a bubbly autograph). When they do appear, his /25 gold parallel of the base version gets a 1.5X premium.
Every year, people clamor over the "new hot rookie" and immediately overpay for the new "must have" items.
If you are deciding between buying that rookie autograph /25 versus the one /10, you may have to open up your wallet quite a bit to pay for scarcity.
This is particularly evident with Topps Chrome autograph parallels. In August, a Justin Blackmon Topps Chrome Black Refractor Auto /25 could be had for $75. During the same time, the Gold Refractor Auto /10 sold for over $130. While this may seem like a big jump, the gap is even more stratified by the fact that his Red Refractor Auto /5 was selling for more than 2.5X the Gold Refractor when available for sale.
If you see parallels of a player you believe in selling for relatively close amounts, it's worth buying the better version. When prices increase, the gap in value spreads further and further.
Cards often sell higher when a jersey piece looks nicer or if the serial numbering corresponds to the first one made, last one made, or the player's jersey number.
Case Keenum's SP Authentic Auto 2-Color Patch 7/885, corresponding to his college and professional uniform number, initially sold for just over $25 when others were selling for $15-$20. Since being named starter, these have increased in value to $40-$50 each. Showing the power of the serial number, the 7/885 recently resold for $125.